Sierra Leone

Building on more than a decade of researching youth marginality in the country, my research in Sierra Leone is presently focused on the growth of the ‘cliques’ – street gangs that have adopted and adapted US street-culture (with names like ‘Crips’ and ‘Bloods’). I began this research in 2016 at a time when the gangs were severely under-researched. I have since conducted multiple extended fieldwork visits in the country, interviewing and spending time with gangs, their communities, and other relevant stakeholders. The aim of my research is to both document the experiences and development of the cliques, and to offer practical insights into how related challenges can be constructively tackled.

I lead a British Academy-funded project ‘Life in Between: Youth Street Gangs and Marginality in Contemporary Sierra Leone.‘ Working closely with Professor Ibrahim Abdullah (Fourah Bay College), this project has produced over 500 in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with gang members across Sierra Leone, as well as members of the police, civil society, prison service, local communities and other relevant actors. The project forms the basis for two forthcoming journal articles and a policy paper.  I am also currently shooting a documentary on cliques in collaboration with WAYout in Sierra Leone, filmed and co-produced with former street youth.

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Local laws in Susan’s Bay informal settlement prohibit wearing gang colours © KMitton

Publications and Outputs

  • ‘A Game of Pain’: Youth Marginality and the Gangs of Freetown (under review)
  • Public Health and Violence’Critical Public Health, Vol. 29, Issue 2, 2019.
  •  War by Another Name? The ‘Urban Turn’ in 21st Century Violence
    T.note Vol. 59, Human Security Issue 7 – 23 April 2018 (download)
  • Guerra con un altro nome? La violenza urbana nel XXI secolo’ Human Security No. 6, March 2018. 
  • And what for future generations in Sierra Leone?
    Africa is a Country – 26 March 2018

    Co-auothored with Jamie Hitchen ahead of Sierra Leone’s 31st March 2018 run-off vote, on youth, politics, violence and hope in Sierra Leone.
  • Generation Terrorists: The Politics of Youth and the Gangs of Freetown
    Mats Utas Blog – 26 February 2018
    Extended piece about Sierra Leone’s elections, sharing initial findings on the emerging (and drastically under-researched) gang-scene in the country.
  • Rebels in a Rotten State: Understanding Atrocity in Sierra Leone
    (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2015)
  • ‘A Pragmatic Pact: Reconciliation and Reintegration in Sierra Leone’,  in Kirsten Ainley, Rebekka Friedman & Chris Mahony (eds) Evaluating Transitional Justice: Accountability and Peacebuilding in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
  • ‘Where is the War? Explaining Peace in Sierra Leone.’
    International Peacekeeping, Vol. 30, Issue 3, 2013.
  • ‘Irrational Actors and the Process of Brutalisation: Understanding Atrocity in the Sierra Leonean Conflict (1991–2002).’
    Civil Wars, Vol. 14, Issue 1, March 2012.
  • ‘Rearmament, Remobilisation and Disintegration in Sierra Leone.’
    Conflict Security and Development Research Group, King’s College London (2010).
  • ‘Engaging disengagement: The political reintegration  of Sierra Leone’s  Revolutionary United Front’ in Reintegrating Armed Groups after Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transition, Mats Berdal & David Ucko, eds. (Abingdon: Routledge, May 2009).
  • ‘Reconstructing Trust in Sierra Leone.’
    The Round Table, Volume 98, Issue 403, August 2009
  • ‘Engaging Disengagement: The Political Reintegration of Sierra Leone’s
    Revolutionary United Front.’
    Conflict, Security and Development, Volume 8, Issue 2, June 2008


Header image: Members of Blood gangsters prepare cannabis for sale, Freetown, Sierra Leone, February 2018 © Kieran Mitton.